Mobile advertising has confounded marketers because it represents a paradigm shift in the way consumers behave. The Internet used to start with a URL typed into a web browser; now it starts with a finger touching an app icon on a phone’s home screen.
According to Nielsen, consumers use an average of 26.7 apps a month — and advertising in those apps takes on various shapes and sizes. Apps are the biggest new communications channel for brands, and marketers need a better understanding if they want to master mobile.
Myth: Mobile apps and mobile web are interchangeable
First, we have to recognize the differences between mobile apps and mobile web. Eighty-seven percent of time on mobile is spent in apps, according to Flurry. Yes, some of that time is spent on web pages, such as reading articles that appear in a Facebook feed.
However, the majority of content presented in-app is presented “natively”— in units built by app developers to optimize the user’s experience. By comparison, most mobile web sites have not been designed to display on multiple screen sizes and resolutions. Instead they leverage the same display ad formats as their desktop counterparts.
App developers prioritize one thing above all else: the user experience. The typical website, whether desktop or mobile, has been loaded up with as many ads as possible. Apps, on the other hand, tend to invest in retaining their users — because in many cases each of those users costs around $3 to acquire. App developers are, therefore, more selective about their advertising partners and the way ads are displayed in their properties.
Apps also rely on different technology than mobile websites. Websites use third-party cookies to serve ads and track users, and those cookies don’t work on mobile. Apps are built around unique device identifiers, and often integrate with Facebook, Apple, or Google logins. And when it comes to ads, most apps work with software development kits (SDKs) to serve ads intelligently and effectively. Unlike tag-based serving, SDKs enable more functionality and a more stable user experience.
Myth: Audiences spend their time browsing the mobile web
Time spent in apps is up 90 percent since 2013 and it now dominates all digital media, according to comScore. By comparison, time spent in mobile browsers is up 53 percent over the same time period, and it only represents 15 percent of the time that mobile apps do. Consumers spend about 4.5 times as much time on desktop web as they do on mobile web; according to comScore, 54 percent of time is spent with digital is in mobile app, versus 38 percent on desktop.
According to Statista, there were 1.6 million apps in the Google Play store and 1.5 million apps in the Apple App Store as of July 2015. This presents another layer of complexity: even though people spent the most time in apps, the app landscape is diverse and fragmented.
According to Nielsen, “entertainment” apps — including gaming, music, video, multi-category entertainment, sports, and books/magazines/comics — had 151 million US unique users in Q4 2014. Within the overall entertainment category, Gaming, Music, and Video are all comparable, with audiences of 115 million, 111 million, and 103 million uniques, respectively. Those users aren’t concentrated.
Myth: In-app ads can’t be measured
Apps offer another advantage over mobile web: ad units in apps perform better when it comes to ad viewability and avoiding fraud. Since apps require more sophisticated tracking technology though, the ad monitoring providers have been slower to deploy their SDKs for apps.
Now that providers are catching up, we can see how viewability compares. According to Integral Ad Science, ad viewability across in-app units is 81 percent, compared to about 50 percent on the web.
How advertisers can keep up
Every new medium presents challenges to advertisers. Industry organizations like the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Mobile Marketing Association have amassed resources for marketers to make sense of new formats, including in-app formats. Brands and agencies can’t afford to ignore the size and scale of in-app advertising as the world increasingly becomes not just mobile-first, but app-first.
Mitchell Reichgut is the CEO and co-founder of Jun Group. Prior to founding Jun Group in 2005, Mitchell led Bates Interactive, the online unit of Bates Worldwide Advertising, now owned by WPP. As General Manager/Creative Director, Mitchell helped grow Bates Interactive into a 70-person integrated unit, with clients such as EDS, Moet & Chandon, and Warner-Lambert.